Living in harmony with coyotes

Coyote sightings are at a peak in Dunwoody, This one was spotted by Tanner Crawford fearlessly crossing Happy Hollow Drive Monday in broad daylight. Bill Robinson had the same experience on Holly Oak. 

Dunwoody residents are encountering coyotes more frequently than ever before, including during the day.

For example, Elizabeth Johnson and her daughter recently watched a coyote calmly grooming itself at midday in their backyard in Nesbit Corners.

Likewise, one afternoon, Sarah Crittenden of Fontainebleau Forest spotted a coyote when driving her children home from Kingsley Elementary School and stopped the car so her children could see what a coyote looks like.

“The coyote looked at me briefly and just stood there,” she said. “It didn’t seem to be alarmed, nervous or concerned about my car or the cars that passed me or my voice.”

Candace Lemond photographed a coyote relaxing in her yard at 1 p.m. She saw another one in a neighbor’s yard early in the evening.

“Neither coyote cared that we were watching,” she said, “but they weren’t aggressive either.”

At sunrise, dusk and nighttime, coyote encounters are commonplace. Nancy Berlin of Dunwoody North regularly sees coyotes when walking her dogs early in the morning and late at night.

The sights and sounds of coyotes are inescapble for anyone living near water. Tracy Gilchrist, who lives on a small lake, often hears them at night, sometimes “snagging a couple of Canadian geese who roost around the lake.” One of her neighbors reported seeing a coyote with a cat in its mouth.

Sometimes coyotes react to people, as happened when Jennifer Bowers of Kingsley encountered one at 5 a.m. during her morning walk.

“I was walking down Seaton Drive,” she said, “and one was running at full speed right toward me on Davantry. Luckily, once he saw me, we both turned tail and ran!”

Coyotes also learn the routines of the people and pets in their territory. When Mark Benson of Briers North heard his three Great Pyrenees “going ballistic” one evening, he found them barking frantically at a coyote standing nonchalantly on the other side of their four-foot fence, obviously aware that the dogs would not jump the fence. Upon seeing Benson, the coyote raised his head, howled as if to claim his territory and trotted off.

These are just a few examples recently reported to The Crier that demonstrate the increasing urbanization of coyotes

Last week, at the Atlanta Humane Society, Lindsey White Dasher of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) explained what Dunwoodians should do about coyotes in a presentation entitled “Living in Harmony with Coyotes.”

Having spent two years with the Cook County Coyote Project, the largest study of urban coyotes in the United States, Dasher shared some facts about coyote behavior, debunked some myths and suggested ways of co-existing with them.

The bad news is that coyotes are so adaptable they’re here to stay. Trapping and killing them doesn’t work because remaining coyotes often bounce back by breeding at earlier ages, having larger litters and experiencing a higher survival rate among the young.

The good news is that they’re so adaptable they can be “taught” through behavior modification to live among humans without causing problems.

Coyotes weigh an average of 25 to 35 pounds and unlike most other mammals mate for life. They live in small family groups, also called resident coyotes, led by a mated pair. Each family claims a territory of two to five square miles. Unmated coyotes, called “floaters,” move in and out of these territories looking for a mate. Both parents raise the pups, and their behavior toward humans and pets is determined by where they are in the cycle.

Coyotes do not hunt in packs. Though they are mainly nocturnal, during April through August while raising their pups, they hunt during the day. The howling at night that people describe as a pack is usually just the mated pair and their youngsters. They are so vocal that a group of two or three can sound like a large pack.

Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores who prey mostly on rodents and occasionally deer fawns. In Georgia, their diet is almost 50 percent fruit. According to the Cook County study, they also eat pet food left outside. Only one percent of their diet consists of family pets.

The three most effective things people can do to control coyotes are remove coyote attractants such as pet food left outside, keep cats inside and small dogs on leashes or within coyote-proof fencing and practice hazing.

The purpose of hazing is to maintain coyotes’ fear of humans and deter them from neighborhood spaces such as backyards and playgrounds. Both children and adults should practice hazing when encountering a coyote.

The first rule is to run toward the coyote, waving your arms and shouting, “Go away, coyote!” Never run away because running encourages a predatory response. Be as loud and crazy as possible.

Also, use noisemakers such as whistles and soda cans filled with pennies, projectiles such as rocks and sticks and repellents such as hoses, pepper spray and water guns filled with vinegar water.

Keep up the ruckus until the coyote leaves. The point is to show him that being near humans is scary. If you quit, you’re just teaching him to ignore you. You have to do this only two or three times to a particular coyote before he learns to stay away. Since the object is to teach your resident coyotes to stay away from all humans, your children should practice hazing too.

Some residents are already getting the results of hazing without realizing it.

Joshua Cochran scared coyotes away from a den in his backyard with firecrackers. Michael Beaver, out for a run, chased a coyote for a quarter mile till it disappeared.

The HSUS offers a fun video about hazing at bit.ly/19hkRB2.

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